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of their strong resemblance to other men, felt happier on the occasion.” The same writer further observes, “that the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts was universally considered the great measure of the session—the great achievement of the year ; and it was no small achievement to have obtained an equal position of citizenship for as loyal and peaceable and principled a set of men as any in the kingdom. The credit is due not to either the aristocratic or the liberal section of rulers and their adherents, but to the members of each house unconnected with government.”
It is worthy of remark that WILLIAM THE THIRD, at the period of “The Glorious REVOLUTION,” would, by the stroke of his pen, have accomplished that which took NEARLY A CENTURY AND A HALF for public and legislative opinion to attain : his good intention being frustrated, as it has been observed, by the ecclesiastical powers of the period.
In 1835 Sir ROBERT PEEL brought forward a further relief to Dissenters—it was in relation to the marriage ceremony. It is well known that no valid marriages could take place in this country without its celebration being according to the forms and after the manner of the Church of England. Sir Robert Peel was disposed to relieve the Dissenter from being a party to a religious service which he conscientiously disapproved ; and it was proposed that the celebration of marriages might take place in the Dissenting places of worship; but to the granting of this privilege was annexed that Dissenters should be dependant on the church for the publication of their banns, and the declaration of that procedure by the clergyman. In Lord John Russell's measure of 1834, it had also been a requirement that licenses for marriage should by Dissenters be placed in some conspicuous part of their meeting-houses or chapels; but the requirements above referred to were not satisfactory to the Dissenters, and the proposal of Sir Robert Peel in that form was rejected by them. That eminent statesman, however, yielded to the reasonableness of the request of the Dissenters to be entirely relieved from any necessity of reference to the Established Church, either as to the publication of banns, or the affixing of licenses as adverted to. “He went,” as remarked by Miss Martineau,“ down to the principle of the matter at once, in which he was as well supported by lawyers in the house as by the Dissenters out of it. On the principle that the civil contract is the first consideration before the law, and that even in churches, where marriage is regarded as a sacrament, the religious ceremony only arises out of a civil contract. Sir Robert Peel now proposed to establish at once the broad principle of the validity of marriage by purely civil contract; he also offered full liberty to all denominations of Dissenters to marry in their own places of worship. It was honourable to the House of Commons that it received this broad measure as it deserved, recognising the truth of its principle. It is also remarked that Dissenters, so far as it went, received it with satisfaction and gratitude. It was not a perfect measure. The registration of marriages being dependant upon the clergy was objectionable; and it was urged that it would be quite as unsatisfactory for those of the Church of England to be compelled to marry nowhere but in a Roman Catholic Charch, or to depend upon the Catholic priesthood for the celebration of their marriages. The Minister received the representation of the Dissenters with respect and good.will, and saw the force of their objection as to the registration by the clergy, or, in case of the civil contract, celebration by a magistrate who was usually a clergyman. Sir Robert Peel had it in his mind to bring forth a registration measure of large scope, but he could not do everything at once, and could only announce it."* His retirement from office prevented the consummation of his intentions.
In 1836 LORD JOHN RUSSELL took up the question of Dissenters’ marriages, registration, &c., where Sir Robert Peel had left it; and without going into the details of that measure, it may be observed that it was one of the most useful and beneficial acts of the legislature in the reign of William IV. The authoress before quoted forcibly comments on the advantages of a national registration of births, marriages, and deaths. “In noting the year of its origin the mind is carried on to contemplate the spread of its consequences, which may, indeed, be fairly considered incalculable. The most obvious, though the lowest, consideration is the security of property given by the existence of an authentic and accessible record of the family events which govern the transmission of real property. Another consideration, deeply felt by a large section of the people, was the removal of a tacit disgrace and disability from the Dissenters, a disgrace and disability growing out of the fact that whatever registration existed was ecclesiastical and not civil. Not births, but baptisms, were, up to this time, registered; no marriages but those which took place at the church of the Establishment, from which Quakers and Jews were therefore excluded ; no deaths but of persons who were buried by the clergy of the Establishment. Again, by the proposed registration, there was a means of exploration into the whole of society which might answer anany beneficial purposes, while it had nothing in it
* Miss Martineau's History of England, 30 Years during the Peace, 1850.
obtrusive or despotic. The numbers of the people would be known their proportion to the means of education-their worldly condition, as indicated by the proportion of marriages-their sanitary condition, as indicated by the proportion of mortality, and the nature of the maladies which carried them off,-and, finally, here would be always at hand a vast body of statistical facts, out of which social reforms might be constructed according to the speculations of the most thoughtful, and perhaps beyond the dreams of the most imaginative.”
Sir ROBERT PEEL had introduced a sound principle of rendering marriage a civil contract only so far obligatory by law, because the civil contract is all that the State has to do with, and the religious celebration is a matter of private conscience altogether. From the time of the passing of the Marriage Act, the business lay, as far as the State was concerned, between the registrar and the parties intending to marry. The marriage might take place at the office of the superintendent registrar, or at any church or chapel registered for the purpose, without publication of banns, and in virtue of the registrar's certificate, that the provisions of the law had been complied with. By this act the Dissenters obtained a relief which it will hereafter be astonishing that they could have waited for so long; and the State began to practise the virtuous prudence of making marriage as accessible as it then knew how, and consonant to the principles and feelings of the conscientious of every way of thinking. *
Especial reference has been made to the Registration Act relating to Dissenters' births, marriages, and deaths. Up to the period of the passing of that Act Dr. Williams's library was the registry for births, &c. of Dissenters. In 1837 a commission was issued by William IV. and renewed by her present Majesty, “to inquire into the state, custody, and authenticity of any such registers or records of births or baptisins,deaths or burials, and marriages, lawfully solemnized as have been heretofore or are now kept, in England and Wales, other than the parochial registers,” and “to inquire what measures may be taken for collecting and arranging the same, and to empower them to call for documents, papers, and records which may appear calculated to assist their researches."
The Commissioners having made their second report, have ceased to act according to the Act of Parliament, and all the registers and
* Miss Martineau's “ Thirty Years since the Peace." p. 332. + BAPTISTS record only their baptisms in what is termed THE CHURCH Book, which indicates when the party whose name is recorded joined the Church by being daptized, upon a profession of faith and repentance. This book is usually kept either by the minister or by one of the deacons of the church
records examined and approved by them are now deposited in the custody of the registrar-general, at the non-parochial register office, Roll's Yard, Chancery Lane, London, for the purposes of the Act third and fourth of Victoria.*
In 1835, a severance took place in the general body of the Protestant Dissenting Ministers of the three denominations, which was organized in 1727, and constituted of the Presbyterian, Independant, and Baptist Ministers, resident in and about the cities of London and Westminster. It was one of its fundamental rules that “no person be allowed to join with the body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers in any public act, but such as were approved by one or other of the three denominations." This rule continues in force to the present day. The early meetings of the general body were held in no fixed place; but after the opening of Dr. Williams's Library, in Red Cross Street, London, it assembled there till 1835, the period of the withdrawal of a large number of the Presbyterians, occasioned by the election of the Rev. George Clayton, as the secretary of the general body-an Unitarian having filled the office of secretary for a lengthened period. It should, however, be remarked, that "the grateful and unanimous thanks of the body was voted to Dr. Thomas Rees, for the zeal and ability with which he had performed his official duties.” The election referred to, led to a resolution of a majority of the Presbyterians to separate from the general body, and so to dissolve the three denominations; but the orthodox minority of the Presbyterian board protested against this act, and constituting themselves the Presbyterian board, were so acknowledged by the Baptist and Independant boards. The Unitarian Ministers and their friends being trustees of Dr. Williams': Library, made it known to the “general body” that they could not be allowed to meet at the Red Cross Street Library as “the three denomirations,"—there being, in their estimation, no longer any such society; and when, on the accession of her present Majesty, they were about to proceed to St. James's Palace with their loyal address, they were compelled to assemble at the Congregation Library, Bloomfield Street, London, which has been their place of me to the present time.
* Searehes and extracts from these registers and records will be granted on every day except Sundays, Christmas Day, and Good Friday, between the hours of ten and four, upon personal application only, and payment of the legal fees. Applications by letter for search or extract cannot be complied with. Persons residing in the country, therefore, who may require searches or certificates, must, of necessity, apply to a friend in London, or employ an agent. All other communications by letter, on the subject of the above-mentioned registers and records, must be ad. dressed to “The Registrar-general, General Register Office, London ;” and it is requested that the words “ Non-parochial Registers” may be written on the outside of all such letters, the postage of which may be left unpaid. The fee for searching registers is one shilling; and for a certificate, two shillings and sixpence.t
The “registers and records" here adverted to have reference to births, baptisms, and deaths, registered in various ways previous to 1835, for which no legislative pro. vision had been made, to render them valid or legal. It was an important and gracious act on the part of the Government, subsequently to that period, to sanction this retrospective arrangement.
+ Congregational Year Book, 1851. p. 235.
The present general body of Protestant Dissenting Ministers of the three denominations comprise the following Ministers—132 Congregationalists, 50 Baptists, and 4 Presbyterians. The business of the general body is conducted by a committee chosen from the three denominations, which meet at the Congregational Library as occasion requires.
Mr. Samuel M. Peto, the honourable member for Norwich-formerly a good Episcopalian, but now an excellent and useful Baptist—by his zealous and persevering efforts, principally aided in obtaining an Act of Parliament, in 1850, by which an important benefit has been conferred on all educational and religious institutions, holding property for public uses-an Act by which titles of such property are simplified, and their transfer facilitated, without the formality and expense of new deeds of conveyance.
It is justly observed, “many chapels and schools have been lost to the public, and have lapsed into private bands, in consequence of the difficulty and expense connected with the appointment of new trustees. Not being corporate bodies, these properly could not vest in succession, and hence new conveyances were indispensable. Mr. Peto’s Act will enable Dissenting churches, and societies whose properties are in the hands of trustees, to renew their trusts, with little trouble and at trifling amount.”
The following interrogatory is proposed, Is it not desirable that all Dissenting churches should look into the state of their trusts, and when the trustees have been reduced below the required number, new appointments should be made, according to the provisions of the Act of 13 and 14 Vict., cap. 28 ?
Particular notice has been taken of the Acts of the legislature in various forms, passed during the nineteentb century, for the civil relief of Protestant Dissenters, indicating the progress of liberal views ; as those views advance, other improvements will follow, and other disabilities will be removed. There have been, and are, however, induences at work that would roll back the tide of religious freedom